NHL Free Agency: 2012 Wrap up

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zach parise NHL Free Agency: 2012 Wrap upWhile calling it a “frenzy” might be a bit inaccurate, the first two weeks of NHL Free Agency have been eventful. Here are a few thoughts about the signings and lack thereof.

1) The Minnesota Heat

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The two biggest prizes of the free agent class both headed North in the hopes of revitalizing a hotbed of American hockey. On the 4th of July, both Zach Parise and Ryan Suter signed identical 13 year contracts with Minnesota Wild totalling $98 million (and a $7.5 million cap hit). The move instantly makes the hockey crazed state of Minnesota relevant again as both players are young difference makers and strong leaders in the locker room. The moves though do not make the Wild Cup favorites. Offensively, the Wild can put together a great top line of Parise-Mikko Koviu-Dany Heatley, but after that there are questions as the rest of the offense is full of youth and depth players. Suter will also anchor a very young defensive corp. So the Wild will eventually be good, but do not expect a Stanley Cup run next year.

The other interesting story here is how these deals got done and the parellels to the 2010 NBA off-season. Reportedly, Parise and Suter were in communication during the negotiations and work together to get deals done, à la Lebron James, Chris Bosh, and Dwayne Wade. It was reported other teams made stronger offers to each player, but both chose to go to the same spot, which happens to be Parise’s hometown. Much like Bosh and James going where James wanted to go, with friend Wade. It will be interesting to see whether this is an isolated situation or a new trend in the NHL.

2) What About Semin?

We are officially two weeks into the free agent period and arguably the most talented player avaliable is still without a home. Alex Semin, formerly of the Washington Capitals, is a former 40 goal scorer and is thought by many to have the talent to be a Top 5 player in the NHL. So why is he unsigned? Semin is reportedly seeking a multiyear deal and teams are unwilling to give the enigmatic Semin term. Despite improved 2 way play under Hunter, Semin has a reputation for being lazy, only playing when he wants to, taking bad penalties, and disappearing when the games matter the most. He was also famously ripped by the TSN Canada panel as a “coach killer” and “complete loser”. There is also the KHL question, where he reportedly has a $10 million per year offer.

So when and where does he go? Semin will land somewhere, but if he wants term it will be in the KHL or for a lower tier NHL franchise, like the Islanders or Blue Jackets (although the idea of Semin with Taveres could work). Look for Pittsburgh, who reportedly offered a deal, to be in the mix for a 1 year deal after missing out on Parise and the always offense starved Rangers to make a bid. And do not count out Detroit, where Datsyuk could provide an example and leadership for the Russian star.

3) Who Improved the Most?

The easy, and likely correct, answer here is the Minnesota Wild. But besides the Wild, the Colorado Avalanche had a nice yet not flashy FA haul. Their big signing was former Islander PA Parenteau, who will add upwards of 40 assists and 20 goals to the Avalanche attack. Some will argue they overpaid, but the Avs were in the playoff race early last season and were willing to pay to improve their staying power ths year. The Avs also added former Ranger depth forward John Mitchell, who played important minutes in the playoffs last year and can add some goals here and there. Mitchell is a very good under the radar signing for a team looking to make the playoffs. On the back-end, Colorado resigned young defenseman Erik Johnson and added veteran stay a home defender depth in Greg Zanon. Again, not flashy, but solid moves.

Other “A” signings included:

- Mikael Samuelsson back to Detroit: Maybe the steal of FA. If he’s healthy, he scores 20 easy.

- Joe Corvo back to Carolina: Corvo has always had success in his previous runs with the Canes and will now QB a powerplay with Staal, Staal, Skinner, and Cole. Not too bad.- -

-Jason Garrison to Vancouver: The Canucks continue to bolster their defense corp year after year and Garrison will work the powerplay point well with Edler. And kudos to Garrison taking less (although still a lot) of money to play in his hometown for a contender.

- Wojtek Wolski to DC: The shootout specialist has had 2 straight down years, but the Caps signed him for 1 year just north of the leage minimum. Even a 10 goal year and this is a steal with little risk.

4) “Knock, Knock, Anyone Home?”

With the Wild landing the 2 biggest names, there are a lot of teams usually near the top in terms of salary that are over $10 million under the cap, including the Red Wings, Penguins, Capitals, and Rangers. We know the Pens are low after being shut out of the Parise sweepstakes, but the others are surprising considering all had needs that could have been met. The Capitals need a Top 6 forward, and Wolski does not count yet (and with Green and Carlson as RFA, their salary will grow). The Rangers need an offensive boost as usual, and even the Wings need help on the backend after the retirement of Nick Lidstrom. This inaction coupled with cap space could mean some big in season trades for these perennial contenders.

5) What are the Stars doing?

When the Dallas Stars sent center Mike Riberio to the Capitals on draft day, it signaled to many that the Stars were beginning a rebuild. Less than a week later, they added the 2 oldest forwards on the market in Ray Whitney and Jaromir Jagr. Not quite the standard rebuild model. These deals would seem to say the Stars think they can compete this year, despite trading away their top playmaker in Riberio. Others have suggested the Jagr was a “name grab”, as attendance was low last season. Still, very curious moves in Big D.

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